Character Development (pp. 1-127)
Tobias Wolff’s Old School narrates the life of a nameless protagonist in a prep school, when snobbishness is depreciated to its full extent. During literature contents holding three times a year, students, and the protagonist in particular, are visited by famous writers who carefully select the winners. As the visitors attend the school, the novel depicts the way the protagonist changes in the course of his final year.
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Each visitor influences the protagonist development, bringing something new to the boy’s understanding of the world. When presenting his piece of writing for the Frost competition, he renders his emotional evaluation of his life story by providing a false picture of his life. In other words, Frost’s’ life and literary works make the protagonist realize that everything he writes seems to conceal his actual status and Jewish ancestry.
Plunging into Rand’s life, the protagonist believe that she hardly knows anything about life because her utopian and idealistic world is too beautiful and perfect, unlike Hemingway’s novels where all people are described in a real life. One way or another, instead of trying to find his own style the protagonist hopes to emulate the authors’ stylistic techniques, believing that this will help him reach the writers’ greatness.
During the Hemingway’s competition, the narrator seems to have grown up enough to realize the falseness of his writing. He understands that his writing is nothing more, but copy-typing of other author’s styles giving him no chances for forming his identity (Lambert 78).
Hence, the realization comes at night before the competition when the protagonist attempts to find out who he is and what he is: “To strip yourself of pretence is to overthrow a hard master, the fear of giving yourself away, and in that one sentence I gave myself away beyond all recall” (Wolff 124).
Character Development (pp. 129-208): Story about Dean Makepeace
The final part of the novel depicts the story about Dean Makepeace, an old war friend of Ernest Hemingway. Makepeace does not make his own claims. At the same time, he never denies those. At the end, it turns out that that the hero, in fact, never knew Hemingway, but he has consciously been giving publicity to this misconception for a long time.
However, when Makepeace finds out about Hemingway’s planned visit to the school, he vehemently resigns from the position. Despite the fact that he comes back to the school, his decision to unveil the truth and separate himself from deceptiveness leads to the ongoing process of identity formation.
Looking at the hero of Dean Makepeace, this character seems assured and remote. His personal crisis of identity interprets one of the major themes discussed in the novel. Makepeace’s falseness and rejection of his veritable feelings is brightly disclosed in the following passage: “I had the impression that he wasn’t actually reading the file, just occupying himself with it while he decided how to carve me up…” (Wolff 179). Everything that Makepeace does and the way he behaves distorts the concept of identity and uniqueness.
His reluctance to recognize his actual nature, feelings, and emotions is quite symbolic for this novel as such situation renders the overall theme of false identity creation and reckless imitation of imaginary characters. Dean Makepeace’s desperate commitment to inviting famous writers to the campus reveals his loyalty to his duties and obligations. However, extreme desire to fulfill all obligations deprives him of his personal goals and dreams.
Lambert, Joshua, N. American Jewish Fiction. US: Jewish Publication Society, 2009, Print.
Wolff, Tobias. Old School. NY: Knopf, 2003. Print.